If, p.10

If, page 10



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“Annalise Robin Campbell.”

  He pointed to the nothingness just in front of us as his finger made a subtle horizontal wave. “Pastel greens and blues, dancing across my vision. Transparent, like light. Cool. Your laughter is warm, but your voice is cool, like a dip into a pool on a scorching hot day. They move like wavelengths and when you stop, they break up and fade away. You have the best looking laughter and voice I have ever seen.”

  “Why, thank you. Do you see your own voice?”

  “It doesn’t work that way for me. Now you tell me something.”

  I felt dull compared to his extraordinary gift. I had no way of telling him how I felt without just saying it. In a way, his ability allowed him to share his intimate feelings without saying the words. It felt safer for him to express and me to hear. I couldn’t say all the things I felt yet, I had already shared so much of myself with him that night.

  “I bet you want to know how my face got this way,” I said, casually, to distract from the not-so-casual feelings I felt towards him.

  “I bet you want to know how I ended up where you found me,” he said. “How about I don’t ask, and you don’t ask?”

  I didn’t mind telling Ash, but I understood it was a way for him to tell me he wasn’t ready to share that story yet. And I understood. We were both trying to guard at least some part of ourselves. Soon, I would get the answer. Just not tonight.

  “I don’t know about you,” Ash said, “but I should go clean up and I really have to take a leak.”

  “Me too. Want to take a shower together? I’ve always wanted to do that with someone.”

  “Another first today?” he asked.

  I winked at him.

  I gaped at his long lean body and taut butt as he walked off into my bathroom, gave him his time to pee, and followed him when I heard the shower start.

  He was already waiting for me, all soaking wet when I followed him in. He pulled me under the spray and kissed me, and the water cascaded off his forehead and onto my nose and eyes so that I scrunched my face. He brushed the excess water off my face, caressing the side that no one touched but me.

  When people hugged or kissed me, they always went to the “good side.” People didn’t touch the scars out of respect, I assumed, but it always felt like they thought they were contagious. With Ash, it was like it wasn’t even a second thought.

  “Birdie! Bird!”

  Before I could even respond to Jordan’s panicked calls for me, he was in the bathroom. My semitransparent shower curtain did not afford the luxury of hiding the identity of my shower companion, not that Jordan didn’t already have an idea.

  I could only assume that he thought I might be in some coercive situation when he walked in and saw the clothes strewn about and heard the shower running. Jordan knew I was a virgin.

  “Shit,” I whispered under my breath. I peeked my head through. “Jordan, I could use some privacy right now.” I darted my eyes towards the exit.

  He pursed his lips and snaked his neck. “Well, well,” he said, dropping his chin and looking up over at Ash, who was behind me. He turned around with some extra sass, waved his finger in the air and called out “Ash, you be good to my girl. She has two gay husbands who are very protective . . .”

  And out he went.

  I knew that well, well. It meant: you little lyin’ heffa, I knew you were full of shit.

  I would have some ‘splaining to do, but it didn’t matter. All that mattered in that moment was the person in front of me.


  I WOKE UP after that first night with Bird more refreshed than I had been in as long as I could remember. I felt ready to take on any challenge. I felt renewed. I wanted to create with abandon. I wanted to spray my energy onto the canvas, like slitting my wrists and spurting paint right from my veins.

  I rolled over on the futon to an empty space beside me. Bird wasn’t there, but the scent of coffee followed that realization and my eyes moved to the kitchen where she stood in my t-shirt, radiating a soft shade of violet. I thought about how I would later catch her scent when I put on that shirt, and how that would provide a never-ending well of energy.

  “Good morning,” she said, flirtatiously.

  “Good morning,” I replied, jumping out of bed.

  “Do you want some coffee?”

  “Sure,” I said, walking over to her, and scooping her in my arms from behind, taking in her fragrance: lavender mixed with soap and the pleasant scent of her soft skin.

  She was warm and I felt that cozy feeling on my fingertips that I felt whenever I allowed myself to really feel how she made me feel. “What time is it?” I asked.

  “Seven. I have a nine o’clock session with the little ‘uns.”

  “When do you head out?”


  I slid the mug out of her hand and I put in on the counter. I was bursting with virile energy and I had to have her again. There was so much of her I hadn’t discovered yet.

  At that moment, the realization clicked. I wasn’t just in a great mood. I was in a fan-fucking-tastic mood. And I wasn’t just horny, I was ravenous. If she didn’t have go to work, I could probably find ten different ways to have her before noon. I knew what this likely meant, but it felt so good, so fucking good to feel this energy in every cell of my being. I had a clarity of mind I hadn’t experienced alone on the streets, isolating myself in silent misery.

  The switch was flipped.

  And when the switch is flipped, I can’t—I don’t—want to stop it. I want to keep climbing, and climbing, until I lose my footing and fall. It’s the only way down, and it’s messy.

  Yesterday, I had taken her softly and passionately. Twice. It was perfect, it was intimate and we connected on a level I had never experienced. It was everything I thought it could be: a sensory experience that would be the envy of Timothy Leary. But on this morning, I took her hungrily. She wasn’t a virgin anymore, and I wanted to show her not just how to make love but how to fuck.

  She was cute, she was beautiful, but she was sexy as hell, too. I wanted to make her feel as hot as the heat that consumed my body like a forest fire when she placed her lips against mine.

  We could have it all. She was everything. We were everything.

  This time her moans were louder, careless and frequent as I broke her in. It was like the fourth of fucking July—bright, booming, poignant, punctuated bursts of light and color.

  Unlike the other two times, this time she came, loud and hard and I tasted flesh and saw sunbursts.

  “Whoa,” she said as we panted, leaning against the kitchen counter. I could tell by the look in her eyes that she was trying to process it all, and I understood, it was a lot to take in. But my mind was moving fast, and I could process it all, feverishly. I was already thinking about all the things I wanted to make today, how I wanted to take the sanguine breath of life she shot into me and spray it all over one hundred canvases.

  “Do you mind if I take this with me?” I asked, already starting to break down the easel.

  “It’s yours,” she said, still in a daze. “Are you leaving?”

  “Well, you’ll be gone soon and I have this urge to get some things on canvas,” I said, shoving as much of the equipment in my bag as I could.

  “Oh, okay.”

  I could feel that maybe this was too much for her, that she might feel insecure that I would snatch her virginity and the art gear and never come back, but she didn’t understand that she was the sun and I was the earth and I got all of my life from her.

  “When are you free again?” I asked. Her body seemed to sigh even though she didn’t let out a breath.

  “Jordan texted me about doing lunch after class with the kiddos, and then I have a shift at the restaurant and I don’t get out until nine,” she said.

  “Okay,” I replied, sliding on my jeans. Did she want me to ask her? Because of course I wanted to be around her at every waking moment, but I didn’t want to suffocate her.

Do you want to hang out?” I asked.

  “Mmmmhmmm,” she smiled, as if she thought I would never ask. “Crap, I need to get ready, I leave in twenty minutes.”

  “Alright,” I said, walking up to her, staring in her eyes, close, so that we were nose to nose and I could feel it made her aroused and nervous. I kissed her. No tongue, just pressed my lips against hers and reached for the hem of my shirt that she was still wearing and whipped it off of her. “I need this back,” I said against her lips.

  And now she was there, in front of me, completely naked, with the sun shining on her, trying to compete with her, but it was losing, and I could have taken her again and again and again. She crossed her arms like I hadn’t just tasted the salty sweetness of those breasts and moved her lips like she was going to say something but hesitated.

  “What’s up?”

  “I—I’m trying to figure out how to phrase this . . .”

  “The way it comes out, however that is, is fine.”

  “I don’t want you living out there.” Her voice wobbled, as if she was overcome with emotion that I don’t even think she expected. “I worry.”

  Like a soft press of the brakes, her concern slowed my thoughts.

  I worry.

  The people who cared about me, that’s all they did. That’s why I tried to push her away, but she’s the sun and I’m just the earth and her gravitational pull is just too strong. I didn’t want her to hurt, or worry. I didn’t want her to have sleepless nights wondering where I had disappeared to. But the inevitable is inevitable.

  With my shirt still in my hands, and her still naked, I walked up to her. I brushed her cheek, specifically the little freckles that were like sprinkles of cinnamon. “Don’t. I’ve managed so far. I’ll see you tonight?”

  She nodded. I wondered if she realized what a mistake she had made. That I wasn’t going back to my place like a normal guy. I was going back out to the streets. The streets were my home. I wondered if she would even answer the door when I came back. I hoped she wouldn’t because I wasn’t stopping if she wasn’t. My momentum had built, I was already rolling down the Birdie Campbell hill, picking up speed with each revolution.

  I slid on my shirt and headed for the door.

  “Aren’t you going to eat something?” she asked.

  Food was low on my list of priorities. She looked around the kitchen. “Here,” she said, grabbing a banana and some sort of snack bar and shoving them in my jacket pocket.


  I WALKED AS fast as I could to the nearest art supply store. I filled up a cart with as many pads of 18x24 canvas paper and tubes of paint as I could and took it to the register, where a girl with one side of her hair shaved off rang me up.

  “Are you a teacher?” she asked.

  “Nope,” I said, wishing she would cut the small talk so I could get moving.

  “That’s a lot of paper.”

  “I’ve got a lot of painting to do.”

  I pulled out a wad of money. All the money I had to my name. My savings had long gone by now, and most of my money came from my brother slipping me cash here and there. I saved most of it, spending as little as possible on food and other necessities.

  When all was said and done, I only had twenty-five dollars and twenty-one cents left to my name. This was an investment. Food could wait. Art would be my food. Bird would be my food.

  Next, I had to find a space. One where I could paint freely, attacking the canvas with no prying eyes. I didn’t want walls. I avoided them as much as possible. Bird made walls tolerable, but when I was alone, with only my thoughts, I often noticed the walls and how they made me feel like I was trapped.

  I paced the streets of Downtown LA, grappling with my bag and the art store purchases I had just made. Time was being wasted and I needed a secure place I could visit repeatedly without needing to pay for transportation. Most importantly, I needed both privacy and no walls. But that’s what a city was. Even when you were outside, you were surrounded by walls that reached for the sky. In a city, there was only one place where there were truly no walls.

  I ran back to Bird’s building, keeling over and panting as I arrived at the front door. I waited for someone to exit and slipped in as I usually did. I took the elevator up to the top floor and then I looked for the stairwell. I raced up and found the door to the roof. The door had a latch and a bolt.

  I slammed into it over and over until the latch ripped off the door. The sun blinded me for a second. I was in my new studio with panoramic views of LA, privacy, and no shitty walls.

  As I caught my breath, the sun started to kick in, so I ripped off my shirt. I set up the easel.

  Then, I went to work.


  Jordan waited for me outside of class so we could go to our favorite diner. That morning, I woke up to a text from him: I’ll drive you to class since I have errands to run, then I am treating you to lunch.

  I was high on Ash, but I was scared. I knew what it looked like. I knew what my sister would think if she knew. Jordan had already given me his two cents: be careful, he’s probably bad news underneath the brooding, the looks, and the genius.

  As shameless as my relationship was with Jordan, yesterday was the first time I was embarrassed. I cared about what Jordan thought of me, and I wanted to share all the exciting feelings and moments I shared with Ash, but I wasn’t sure if he would be willing to accept them yet.

  So, I prepared myself for an interrogation and for Jordan to think I had been lying to him. Which, for the record, I hadn’t been. I didn’t sit and plot for things to go the way they went. As far as I thought, all signs pointed to Ash being uninterested after our first kiss.

  We decided to save the discussion for the diner, but Jordan said he did have something to tell me.

  We sat across from each other in a shiny red booth.

  “So, who should go first?” I asked.

  “Something tells me your news is far more complicated than mine. So I’ll tell you what I originally came to tell you last night before I saw you had been deflowered.”

  I felt the blood leave my stomach and flood my face.

  “Awww, your high-yellow ass is blushing!”

  “Did you really have to say deflowered? And you don’t even know if that’s true.”

  “If I had to put my money on it, I would. You had this little grin on your face on the way to the studio and then walking over here.” Was I that obvious?

  I rolled my eyes. “Back to the original subject, what did you have to tell me?”

  He sat up tall, smiled, took a deep breath and spoke. “Okay, so I don’t want to get too excited yet, buuuuut . . . guess who called me yesterday?”

  “I don’t know, the pope?”

  “Alana Roché DeMill.”

  “You’re lying,” I proclaimed in disbelief.

  “I swear. I’m not shitting you.”

  “What!” I almost leapt out of my chair. Alana Roché DeMill was the founder of one of the most prestigious dance companies in the country. “Why? What did she want?”

  “Well, it was her assistant, but apparently the daughter of a family friend was in the holiday show and she loved my pieces.”

  I was nearly shaking with excitement for Jordan, living vicariously through his news.

  “So here’s what I know at this point, and this is top secret. She has raised funding for a show called Danse Nocturne. Basically, it’s like Cirque de Soleil but with a heavy emphasis on dance instead of acrobatics. Tons of resources will be put into costuming, lighting and special effects to make it an almost surreal dance and sensory experience.”

  I wanted to kick myself for immediately thinking of Ash, and what it would be like for him to watch a show like that. I wanted to go for five minutes without thinking about him.

  “That sounds amazing.”

  “Doesn’t it? And she wants fresh choreography. She’s on the hunt, and when she saw my show she put me on the shortlist. That’s all I know.”

  I looked at Jordan for a second in silence, and then I put my fists up and squealed, and then he squealed and we locked our hands together, flailed them, and squealed together.

  “I don’t want to get too excited though,” he said after we were all squealed out.

  “Get excited. You are going to get it. You are going to go in there and tell her you are the one. You are not only a beautiful dancer, but you are a great dancing mind. You deserve this more than anyone I know. It’s your time dammit!” I felt like a coach at the bottom of the 9th, amping up my star player to hit a grand slam.

  Jordan’s eyes welled up. We had both sacrificed so much to follow the dream. We had both had so many pride-swallowing moments where it would have been easier to just walk away. I understood what this meant to him.

  “Bird, if I get this, you are coming with. You will be in my show. Not because you are my friend, but because you are an immensely gifted dancer. And you know I don’t bullshit.”

  Now I was welling up.

  We both fanned our eyes, refusing to shed tears quite yet. We would save those for when he was officially asked. When. Not if.

  “Now it’s your turn,” he said as the server placed our food on the table.

  “I don’t know what to say . . . where to begin.”

  “What’s going on with you and Ash? Because if I am remembering correctly, the last time we spoke, you were very adamant that it was nothing, and that he would never want you and what I walked in on yesterday was the opposite of that. By the way, you nearly gave me a heart attack when I walked in on that scene.”

  “I’m sure it did.” I sighed. “That’s what your nosey behind gets,” I snickered. I thought for a moment and sighed. “I don’t know. He came over, and . . . well, last week we kissed, and he left abruptly.”

  “Hmmmm,” Jordan huffed skeptically. “That’s why you were acting all crotchety.”

  I flipped Jordan my namesake.

  “And then he showed up yesterday, saying he wanted to see me and that he left because he didn’t think I should get involved with him. I thought he wasn’t interested—“

  “Bird. Hellloooo. He’s in love with you.”

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